After bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, King David appointed the Levites to play their lyres and harps and sing God’s praises. He instructed them to thank God for His many kindnesses, including the special gift of Eretz Yisrael.
“וַיַּעֲמִידֶהָ לְיַעֲקֹב לְחֹק, לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּרִית עוֹלָם. לֵאמֹר, לְךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן, חֶבֶל נַחֲלַתְכֶם.” (תהילים ק"ה:י-יא)
“[God] established it to Jacob as a statute, an eternal covenant to Israel, saying: To each of you I give the land of Canaan, the portion of your inheritance.” (Psalms 105:10-11; I Chronicles 16:17-18)
The Hebrew text contains a grammatical difficulty not apparent in the translation. The verse opens with God’s promise to give each individual (לך, in the singular) a portion of the land of Israel. But the verse concludes by referring to the land of Israel as נחלתכם, using the plural ‘you’ — your collective inheritance.
Why this switch from singular to plural?
Rav Kook explained that we connect to the land of Israel on two levels. Our first connection is through the ties that connect the Jewish people as a whole with the land of Israel, an eternal bond throughout the generations.
But there exists an additional layer, a special connection between each individual Jew and the land of Israel. There exists an exact match between each individual — according to one’s talents and traits and unique soul-qualities — and Eretz Yisrael. This is our special cheilek or portion in the Land.
In a 1906 letter, Rav Kook discussed this personal connection to Eretz Yisrael. The special distinction of Jerusalem, the great mitzvah to live there and build up the city, is well known. But if this is the case, why do we find great tzaddikim who chose to live in other cities in Israel? Why didn’t they all make their home in Jerusalem?
Rav Kook answered that every location in Israel has its own unique facet of holiness. As an example, Rav Kook noted some of the special spiritual qualities of Jaffa (where he then lived), the place where the prophet Jonah visited, and its role in the building of Solomon’s Temple.
“Even though Jerusalem is highly cherished, and its holiness is a comprehensive holiness, and its settlement takes precedence [over other cities in Israel]; nonetheless, each tzaddik perceived in his specific inner soul that he belongs to the unique holiness associated with that place. Therefore he established his residence there.” (Igrot HaRe’iyah vol. I, p. 35)
Rav Kook added that this was certainly true for the various tribes of Israel. Each tribe was prophetically assigned an area in Eretz Yisrael that corresponded to its own unique spiritual qualities.
(Of course, one’s special ties to the land of Israel do not have to be expressed geographically. Each person may find his connection and contribution to Eretz Yisrael in a particular sphere of occupation, building up the Land physically or spiritually.)
This then is the intent of the prophetic statement. The verse starts with the individual — “to each of you I give the land” — and ends with the collective — “the portion of your [collective] inheritance.” Our bonds to the land of Israel include both own personal connection to the Land, as well as the nation’s eternal ties, throughout the generations.
This double connection is also reflected in the phrase chevel nachalat'chem, “the portion of your inheritance.” The phase appears to be oxymoronic, for chevel means a set, measured area of land, while the word nachalah indicates an inheritance that is boundless, for all times. Is our inheritance both measured and boundless?
In fact, our ties to Eretz Yisrael encompass both aspects. We have a specific portion in the Land, our chevel, according to our unique soul-qualities. And we also share eternal binds to the Land, our nachalah as members of the Jewish people, party to God’s eternal promise to Israel. “He confirmed it to Jacob as a statute, an eternal covenant to Israel.”
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 203)